SAN FRANCISCO — Like replicating successful shots in bowling, brewing good beer traditionally has been about consistency; beer drinkers being able to pickup a glass or a bottle of their favorite beer and expect it to taste as it always has.
While maintaining consistency is important for beloved followers of certain beers, beer tastes are changing. In celebrating its 20th anniversary, the oldest brewery-restaurant in San Francisco — ThirstyBear Organic Brewery — is likewise taking a new direction, and has begun replacing its largely static beer selection with a rotating beer menu of experimental, seasonal and one-off brews.
For Ron Silberstein, founder and original brewmaster of ThirstyBear, the new approach breathes excitement.
“The question I’ve had coming on our 20th anniversary, is what was exciting back then?” said Silberstein. “And what people did then is not what you do to drive a taproom today. Why not instead of a Bohemian style pilsner, why not try an American style lager? What about for an IPA, why not make an alt-style red beer? Rather than have our standard Belgian-style wheat beer spiced with coriander and orange peel, why not mix it up with a hoppy American wheat?”
As ThirstyBear’s past offerings run out at the taproom, the brewery has been replacing them with all-new beers for the past couple of months, still adhering to 100% organic ingredients in all of their brews.
Beers like Stave Series #15: The Dark Age, a dark ale aged for a year in bourbon barrels, hopped with Wakatu from New Zealand and brewed with tons of chocolate and Special B malt; SOMA Wheat, an American-style wheat ale made with un-malted wheat, hopped with Sterling and Crystal; and SFMOMA Mosaic, a Belgian ale hopped with Mosaic for papaya and mango notes, brewed with German malt and Belgian yeast.
Head Brewer Brenden Dobel says the new rotating selection works because of ThirstyBear’s presence as a brewpub, and not a massive brewery that bottles and cans to distribute.
“When you come in here we want to show you a good time,” Dobel said, adding beer drinkers coming into ThirstyBear nowadays are overall more knowledgeable about beer in general. The dynamics of having the same beers on tap every time versus new varieties to try aren’t the same as they used to be — appreciation and awareness of craft beer at this point being a major factor.
ThirstyBear plans to continue rolling out new flavors every month, with IPAs utilizing different hop varietals, seasonally appropriate styles, and various expressions of Dobel’s muse all on deck.
Fans of ThirstyBear’s old favorites like the Panda Bear Ale and Howard Street IPA need not despair, as Dobel and Silberstein say there’s room in future rotations for those beers — and even new takes on the old recipes — to be featured again.
For now it’s all about getting creative and trying new things.
“Let’s throw everything out of the window, full-flavored beers every single time, without worrying about if the standards have the same flavor profile year-after-year,” said Dobel. “It’s more about flavor than consistency at the brewpub level.”